Blow up the U.S. dietary guidelines

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I’m not advocating any kind of violence or destruction. I’m being metaphorical.

But news released yesterday by the National Center for Health Statistics raises serious questions about the devastation wrought by U.S. food and nutrition policy since the 1970s:

Results from the 2017–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 42.5% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over have obesity, including 9.0% with severe obesity, and another 31.1% are overweight. Body mass index (BMI), expressed as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2), is used commonly to classify overweight (BMI 25.0–29.9), obesity (BMI at or above 30.0), and severe obesity (BMI at or above 40.0).

I would encourage you to read the report for yourself on the CDC website, but to show just how completely the U.S. dietary guidelines have failed, I put the figures from Table 1 of the report into a graphic:

Since the early 1970s the proportion of the adult population that was overweight has held relatively flat, declining about 3% in five decades.

Meanwhile, the percentage who have BMI>30 has more than tripled!

As they say on Twitter, “Let that sink in.”

Four years ago I was among those with obesity, with a BMI of 30.1. And it’s only by doing the opposite of what the U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that I’ve lost 65 pounds and today have a BMI of 23.1, squarely in the healthy range.

When more than 80% of Americans are overweight and over half are some variety of obese, it’s pretty clear we have a systemic problem.

It’s not just a few people who lack willpower to drop the fork and start exercising.

As one of my Health Sherpas put it:

And yet the commission that sets U.S. dietary guidelines again refused earlier this year to even consider a truly low-carbohydrate option among its recommendations.

I believe the biggest reason behind the tripling of obesity in five decades is wrong-headed dietary advice from so-called “experts.”

It was well-intentioned, but still wrong.

They’ve told us we should eat lots of “healthy whole grains” and should avoid “artery-clogging” saturated fats, and that all we need to do to lose weight is to “eat less and move more.”

Do they really think that 80% of us have been completely disregarding their advice?

No way. Consumption of red meat and saturated fat has declined since the 1970s. A lot. The reality is all of our federal food and nutrition programs have been built on a high-carbohydrate, low-fat foundation.

Doctors have had their licenses to practice threatened for their advocacy of low-carb, high-fat diets.

And beyond that, they have good reason to fear that if they recommend a high-fat diet and one of their patients has a heart attack, they could be sued for malpractice.

Thankfully, there is a grassroots movement for a low-carb lifestyle which has helped many escape the obesity trap, and I’m grateful for the pioneering physicians, scientists and journalists who have taken the personal risks to research and advocate for it.

My series on the #BodyBabySteps is my way of contributing to this movement. It’s intended for people who are in a situation similar to what Lisa and I were in four years ago: seriously overweight and without a clear idea of what it would take to make a change.

Or whether it was even possible for us.

Through the #BodyBabySteps I’m trying to boil down what we’ve learned to its practical essence: What concrete things do you need to do to succeed in losing weight, reversing metabolic syndrome and reclaiming your health? How can you get there as easily as possible?

The NHANES report released yesterday suggests there’s an 80% chance you could benefit from following along on this journey. You can subscribe by email, or follow me on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn, where I’ll also be posting links.

The chance you know someone struggling with overweight, obesity or extreme obesity is 100%, so please share this post on your social networking sites using the buttons below.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 13. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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